The above is free until tomorrow, and here’s a funny one, I hope you might like
“Thing is, the engines on the original steam trains all had individual numbers. Of course, that was before the Great Western Railway became nationalized in 1947. The first engine was number…”
“Shut up, Peter!”
“Put a sock in it!”
Peter Forester was a really nice man, always ready to help a friend at a moment’s notice, generous to a fault, thoughtful and kind.
Unfortunately he was also one of the most boring people I’ve ever known in my life.
Because he was nice he had plenty of friends, but they were the kind of friends who bawled ‘Boring’, every time he launched on his latest diatribe about railway trains, the different varieties of real ale, the origins of cricket or the international rules for table tennis championships. When he gets chastened like this he just smiles good-naturedly, never taking offence, and that’s why everyone likes him so much. He’s a bit like a TV that goes haywire sometimes and the only way to get a decent picture is to bash it hard.
It was fortuitous for all of us when the two women came into the Dog and Duck that evening, when Peter, Stuart, Jonathan and I were chatting desultorily over our pints.
The moment Peter saw Susanne Butler he couldn’t take his eyes off her.
Actually neither could any of us, but the other three were married or had girlfriends, so they couldn’t admire her quite so obviously. Susanne had long dark hair, a wonderful figure, sensational smile and an intelligent lively face. Susanne was with her friend Jane—we didn’t know their names at first of course, but it was a quiet evening in the pub, and Stuart chatted to them at the bar, and they were happy to come and join us.
They were Scottish student nurses, in their early thirties by the look of it, and on holiday in the south of England, staying nearby, keen to see the delights of Canterbury and the other beauty spots in Kent.
We spent a very pleasant evening, and I hope they enjoyed our company as much as we enjoyed theirs.
Peter collared me in the Gents toilet.
“Jack, you’ve got to help me,” he said. “I’m in love! I’ve just got to ask her out.”
“Susanne, of course, the beautiful one. I mean Jane, the blonde girl, is really nice, but Susanne is sensational.”
“Well, she’s on holiday. She’d probably love to spend an evening with you.”
“Maybe. But she’s with her friend, she’s obviously a thoughtful girl, wouldn’t want to leave her friend alone for the evening, it wouldn’t be fair.”
“S’pose so,” I agreed.
“Whereas she might come out on a foursome. With you and me.”
Bugger! The thought of an evening of ‘undiluted Peter’, with no one around to shout ‘Boring’ to shut him up, made me feel almost suicidal, but then, if the two girls agreed they’d be coming too, I’d surely be spared Peter’s tedious rants. And maybe I could tactfully steer the talk away from anything that seemed too onerous.
“Okay,” I agreed without enthusiasm. “Let’s suggest it.”
Secretly I was quite excited about the idea, because I was keen on Susanne too, and if by any chance it turned out that she was more interested in me than Peter, I certainly wouldn’t complain. She seemed a really interesting friendly girl, full of lively chatter, whereas her friend Jane seemed quiet and actually rather hard to talk to.
Everything went according to plan. The girls agreed with alacrity that on the following evening, Thursday, they’d meet the pair of us at six o’clock in the Dog and Duck, and we’d take them on the ghost tour of Canterbury—an inspired suggestion of Peter’s, because Jane had let slip that she was interested in the supernatural.
But early the following evening fate stepped in and wrecked everything. While I was climbing on a stepladder, it toppled over and I fell to the ground, twisting my ankle. No damage was done that wouldn’t repair itself in time, but, for the next few days I was going to have to hobble about, and driving or walking was out of the question.
I phoned Peter with the bad news; unfortunately it had happened only half an hour before we were due to meet the girls, so Peter had no choice but to take the pair of them out on his own. It really was the worst luck imaginable, but what could I do? Of all the ironies, I had the uncharitable feeling that Susanne did like me better than Peter, and I had been looking forward to hoping that the ‘best man’, i.e. me, might win. Perhaps fate had kicked me in the teeth on purpose. Maybe I deserved it.
An hour later there was a knock on my front door.
I hobbled out to answer it.
To my delight, Susanne was standing on the step.
“D’ye mind if I come in, Jack?” she asked, stepping into my hallway. “Peter told me about your accident, and I was worried about ye.”
“There was no need for you to come.” I welcomed her into the living room, unable to suppress my delight. “You should have gone on the ghost tour.”
“Och, away with you, it’s Jane likes the ghosts and ghoulies, not me, tell the truth I’m glad to get out of it. Besides, the pair of them were rabbiting away together, I didnae want to play gooseberry. Between you and me, sometimes Jane tends to talk too much, you have to find a way to tactfully shut her up, poor old Peter’s probably getting earache by now. Sit yerself down Jack, you’ll be needing a wee bag of frozen peas on that ankle, you stay put now in the chair, I’ll make us some supper later, but how about a wee snack now?”
This was better than I could possibly have imagined. Susanne was kind and attentive, and arranged cushions on my armchair, a footstool to prop up my foot and made some coffee, even found some biscuits in the kitchen.
She sat down in the sofa opposite.
“Och this is cosy, is it not, Jack?” She smiled and I noticed an attractive dimple in her chin. I imagined moving to the sofa beside her later on, perhaps draping a casual arm across her shoulders.
“Do you ken something? Between you and me, I know Peter’s your friend, but I’d never have gone out with him on my own. He’s really not my type. I’m so glad it’s just you—Jane’s a lot nicer than I am, she’s a born listener, she can put up with any amount of boring blather about railways and cars and real ale and computers, I know you men like to blather on about that kind of thing.”
Susanne was even more attractive than I remembered, she was obviously thoughtful and kind, and shortly afterwards she’d found some ham, eggs and bread and managed to knock together something for us to eat. I was eying the space beside her on the sofa more and more, wondering when I could hobble across without making my intentions too obvious.
“Aye, Jack, d’ye know I liked you from the moment I set eyes on you,” she said, reaching into the shoulder bag she’d brought with her. She looked at her watch. “Jack, would you mind very much if we have the telly on? Think Corrie is on a wee bit later. I’m addicted to the soaps, me. D’ye know, Jack, I’ve watched every single episode of the TV soap operas Coronation Street (Corrie) and Emmerdale – you know, the one about farmers and scandal and gossip in the countryside – since I was ten years old? In fact I’ve made two hundred and thirty-eight pages of notes covering every episode of Corrie, since 1999! They’re right here!”
She placed the large folder on her knees and opened it up, taking out some pages.
“It’s lucky, we’ve got a couple of hours before it starts, we’ve just got time for me to bring you up to date on all the story lines…”
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